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Making Emergency Medical Helicopters Safer After Disasterous 2008

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, September 02, 2009 10:53 AM EST
Category: On The Road
Tags: Helicopter Crash, Aircraft Collision, FAA, NTSB, , Medical Helicopters

Making emergency medical  helicopters safety was the focus of a NTSB hearing.


IMAGE SOURCE: iStockphoto/ Air Evac / author: © MarcoCoda

Install New Systems, Increase Training

The federal government is looking at ways to make emergency medical helicopters safer after 2008, the worse year in emergency medical helicopters history, that left 29 dead in medical helicopter crashes.

Realizing that voluntary compliance with safety measures is not working, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) held hearings Tuesday to recommend more safety measures be incorporated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and mandated on air ambulance operators.

The most sweeping of changes involves a proposal that Medicare pay for flights where pilots have received more safety training and comply with standards developed by Medicare.

The NTSB has no regulatory authority and can only make safety recommendations to other agencies such as the FAA and the agency that oversees government insurance programs, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The air ambulance industry is a $2.5 billion business that runs about 830 medical helicopters.

The number of helicopters has doubled every decade since 1980, according to a Washington Post investigation. Yet the industry can fly without safety features required of commercial airlines such as terrain warning systems or flight data recorders.

The NTSB recommendations to increase safety include additional pilot training, greater air pathways dedicated to emergency medical transports, the use of autopilot to help single pilots, and wider use of night-vision goggles and terrain awareness monitors.

Aerosafe Risk Management, a consulting firm, believes the risk won’t go down until reimbursement rates for transporting patients are increased, reports the Wall Street Journal.

In response to the recommendations, Dawn Mancuso, executive director of the trade group, the Association of Air Medical Services, told the Washington Post that tying Medicare payments to a safety review “was surprising to us, but it is an innovative approach” and that none of the recommendations would be “viewed in a wholly negative way by our members who are committed to safety.”

The NTSB hearings were a follow-up to public hearings held in February made up of aviation experts, helicopter personnel, and industry executives. #

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